Sunday, February 27, 2011

A, Epiphany 8 - Isaiah 49:14-16a, Matthew 6:30-33 "Satisfaction Seeker"

There’s an old saying, “It’s hard to get good help!” And in today’s fast-paced consumer driven society, there’s no doubt this saying is true.

We all seem to want it immediately — it must be glossy, it must be cheap, and it must be now! “Fast food, cool clothes, and plenty of possessions!” There’s another saying used in the retail industry, “The consumer is always right.” So, we the consumer, who’s always righteous, gets what we want; we get it fast, it looks cool, it’s so glossy, and it’s unbelievably cheap too! We open it with great excitement and it’s BROKEN!

In our quest for the best there’s no time for rest! Quick! Get in the car, we need instant action. Arriving at the shop in the nick of time, frustrated with the old fogey in his vintage car, but nevertheless getting there just before closing time with our piece of broken expectation, and there’s a cue. Aaaaah!

Still twisted and snaky from swerving through the torturous traffic, avoiding pedestrians who believe they own the road, one finds themself nervously waiting, jiggling anxiously from the not so cool, not so glossy, now expensive piece of junk, that’s caused suffering in the search for satisfaction.

It’s hard to get good help! “You’ll have to come back tomorrow”, says the salesperson who barely looks old enough to count let alone magically fix the faults and fulfil us yet again with our craving for satisfaction. “That’d be right!” is the thought, “It’s hard to get good help these days!”

Have you ever been frustrated by not getting what you want when you want it? Some shops turn into ghost towns when you need help or want to return something. But when you just want to browse, sellers seem to drop from the ceiling seeking to help you spend your savings.

It’s hard to get good help! Will anyone work unless it’s seeking to sell? Why won’t anyone fix the broken stuff any more? Do I have to chuck it out and buy again seeking to restore satisfaction from dissatisfaction?

Most of us, I suspect, will resonate with the deep desire we have to be properly served. Have you ever wished you were a king or queen having slaves appease your every whim and want? You say “jump” and they all joyously reply, “How high, O great one!”

It’s hard to get good help! No one wants to jump in and help any more unless they get something out of it.

In Isaiah 49 we hear the call for the heavens, the earth, and mountains to jump for joy because of the comfort the Lord has for his people. He serves them by showering compassion on their affliction.

However Zion, also known as Jerusalem, the mountain where the Lord dwelt with his people in his temple, doesn’t respond in the way the mountains around it are called to do. But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” (Isaiah 49:14 ESV)

It was as if Zion went into a shop for service and no one was there. They thought God had abandoned them, had he disappeared in their hour of need for service and satisfaction? It’s hard to get good help! And it seemed like God didn’t want to help them either.

But the reply comes, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.” (Isaiah 49:15–16 ESV)

Even more perfect than a loving mother nursing her child, is God’s compassion for his children. God will not forget — he was constantly in their presence — within the walls of Jerusalem.

What do you do when you think you might forget something? Have you ever written information on your hand to remind you late? God never forgets yet they’re engraved on the palms of his hands. His hand is not written on, rather his hand rests on those he loves, touching lives, moving with his Holy Spirit to comfort and console.

Israel was engraved on God’s hands not because he forgets, but because they constantly forgot about him! It was hard for them to find good help, because they chose to turn their backs on the fixes God put in place. All they had to do was follow the house rules and be faithful stewards of the Law in his holy house on his holy hill, at the temple in God’s earthly Zion, Jerusalem.

So when they became despondent thinking they were slaves of misfortune and God had abandoned them, he reveals them his hand. They are etched and imprinted on his hands, carried by he who created them.

This is a remarkable thing God does; he’s sovereign and almighty over all things yet he’s got them on his hands. Usually the practice was to tattoo or brand the name of the master onto to hand of the slave, but here God shows he is enslaved to them, just as is a nursing mother to an infant still on the breast.

It seems nothing changes much throughout the ages. The Jews were finding it hard to get good help while Jesus walked amongst them two thousand years ago! Yet again they were still seeking satisfaction in all the wrong places.

They were anxious over what they would eat and drink, where they would live and what they would wear. Anxious here in the Greek text literally means “becoming disunited” and “divided within”. They were unable to get good help because in their struggle for satisfaction they were literally coming apart; they were cracking up and breaking at the seams.

The people of God had lost their glossy appearance. And with their backs turned from God, busy seeking satisfaction, their anxiety was not only breaking them open for all to see them seeking a sinful reality, but was also tearing them away from God.

Jesus addresses them, “O you of little faith? …do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:30–33 ESV)

Jesus tells them our Heavenly Father looks after the birds of the air, the lilies and grasses of the field, which come and go with regularity. And he likens their faith to that of short-lived grass.

Their faith was not so much as little, like that of a mustard seed, but rather the phrase is better translated as puny, brief, vain and disappearing like a puff of steam from the mouth on a cold morning. It was slow to grow and fast to fall, lacking perseverance and endurance. Their faith was broken, here today gone tomorrow, like a cheap glossy piece of costly junk.

So Jesus seeks to rekindle their faith as he encourages them to once again seek the Father — as their help, as one who serves, who never forgets, and who is faithful like a nursing mum. However, this time it was different! God the Father was revealing his hand, and engraved on it with love and compassion, is his Son Jesus Christ.

But how were they to see this hand of mercy? Time and time again God had raised his hands to bless. Right from the day God gave his word to Moses and Aaron, the Israelites heard God’s promise. Over and over again God promised to bless them and keep them; that his face would shine upon them and be gracious to them, and they would be looked upon with favour, and given his peace. How were they to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness this time, when every other time in the past they failed to see or seek his help?

If it’s hard for humans to get good help, how hard do you think it is for God to find good help when we can’t even seek the right help for ourselves? Well, it’s so hard God had to send his own Son to be our sole help. The Law, as holy as it is, proved to be no help; we always fail as stewards of the Law, breaking the house rules.

In fact, it’s not the system that’s out of order, we’re out of order. We’re the broken possessions of God, and we need returning to the manufacturer for repair. But God sends his repairer to us! The reality is help is at hand, God’s hands have been lifted up in death and now in victory.

Are you obedient to God’s word and will? Are you seeking his righteousness and his kingdom? Or do you seek a righteousness that seeks to set up a kingdom of its own? Do you wish all around you would fall to your will – give you traffic free roads, service when you want it, solitary, and satisfaction? Do you wonder why no matter what you do, or seek others to do for you, the peace from these deeds never lasts, if it even really starts?

Jesus calls you to seek God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. When you stop, when you’re still, you allow him to be the sole source of your help. Then you will know he is Lord, that he jumps to your attention, making his kingdom yours, and so too his righteousness.

Jesus Christ is your righteousness, you are God’s prized possession, like a bride bearing the ring engraved with her husband’s name, and he bearing hers, you have his name written on you, and yours on him.

Our help is now in the name of the Lord, and that name is our Lord Jesus Christ. God the Spirit is given to give you the will to seek his righteousness, by faith alone. You’re righteous before God because of this gift of trust, or faith, by which he seeks to conform you to his will to do his works.

His hands now bear the engravings of your sin, the nail marks of the cross are your reminder. We not only have the written word of God’s blessing and service, we have the Risen Word, the Son of God. He was faithful towards God even unto death, and he is faithful to you today even as you struggle unto death. That’s got to give peace beyond understanding!

So trust him, the work of his Son, the immediate ceaseless activity of the Holy Spirit, who jumps to serves you in your brokenness. There is true satisfaction to be had!

It might be hard to get good help, but that doesn’t mean it’s not available. Seek satisfaction in his righteousness! It will save you from yourself. It will save you from the anxiety within which seeks to have you believe you must work your righteousness. Amen.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A, Epiphany 7 - Leviticus 19:2; Matthew 5:38-48 "A Tale of Two Traditions"

There are many saying of wisdom in the world. There are also just as many sayings contradicting these wise words, but are they any less wise? For example the idiom, “history tells us” or, “tradition has it” is a good reminder of worldly wisdom’s opposites.

History tells us many things have improved our lot in life, but history also tells us we’ve become a lot worse off. One will say, “History never repeats itself” while someone else will say, “History has to repeat itself” and yet both are wise sayings in different contexts.

One thing worldly wisdom does is builds an authority, common amongst a community of people. This authority common to the community is called commonsense. Within this authority of common wisdom there is a generally accepted human model which sees us divided folk into good and the not so good — good blokes and lovely ladies as opposed to gullible girls and blokes who are jokes.

Those we tend to label as jokes or gullible are those we don’t like for one reason or another. They don’t match up according to the common authority of worldly wisdom’s sense of right and wrong. Nevertheless, we seek to be seen as good people under this tradition, this authority, and this wisdom — lovely ladies and good blokes.

In total contradiction to this authority, tradition, and wisdom of being either good and not bad, Jesus began teaching a new wisdom, a new Tradition, and a new authority.

On the Sermon on the Mount, many good folk gathered — well many came and listened who appeared to be good. But Jesus addresses the hidden folly of their wisdom, their traditions, and the authority under which they sought to live.

In the last couple of weeks we have heard sections of his address on the mountain. Beginning in Matthew chapter five, Jesus lays out the foundation of this new wisdom in the beatitudes. The beatitudes begin his teaching, acting like a summary of the contents, after which he unpacks these sayings.

He tells those gathered what it is to be blessed, and then he instructs them they are the light and salt of the world. They will be the bearers of this new foundation on which we’re taught to believe the church is built today.

Next Jesus prefaces the unpacking of this new wisdom by saying their old ways were not wrong, just misguided. The Tradition which was laid out by God through Moses was made to look like a joke. But the Israelites had in fact become the brunt of the joke — gullible to the ways of the world.

Many of them and their religious leaders had corrupted the ways of God so his authority, wisdom, and God’s Tradition, written in his wise words of Law ended up being used to point to them and their authority, wisdom, and traditions. And the leaders loved looking like good blokes leaving many of the followers wondering how they too could copy their pious virtues and dutiful deeds.

However, Jesus upholds the old covenant wisdom saying, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them”. (Matthew 5:17 ESV) The Greek word for think in this verse comes from the Greek word for law. So Jesus tells them not to law a new law, don’t write off the wisdom God has already written.

Jesus knows the way we think and the way our wisdom works. At the Sermon on the Mount he returns humanity to the holiness of God’s Law, telling them not to outlaw the holy Law given though Moses. What he needs all of us to know is our wisdom, our authority, and our traditions make us outlaws against God and his good and holy Law.

So Jesus says, “…I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. (Matthew 5:20 ESV)

We can understand this must have astonished those who listened on. Why can we identify with their astonishment and shock? Because it still comes as a shock to us who seek to be good blokes and lovely ladies in our good person — bad person perception!

You need to know — unless your goodness surpasses the practices and commonsense of all worldly wisdom, authority, and tradition you will not enter the kingdom of heaven!

Jesus continues to unpack his teachings by reminding the listeners each time what was common wisdom by saying, “You have heard that it was said… (κούσατε τι ρρέθη)” If we use today’s language, he said, “History tells us... traditionally you have done this… the common practice might be… or, you might have it on good authority…

Five times Jesus points out what they have heard said to be the common practice; six times if we count his continuance from adultery onto divorce. He points out the status quo but then six times says, “BUT! But I say to you… (γ δ λέγω μν)

Today we hear the last two of these teachings of Jesus, which herald a new wisdom, and the new Tradition, refocusing Israel with all humanity back under the true wisdom, the true authority, and the intended tradition God put in place for all people.

Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:38-39, 43-45a ESV)

Next to these new Traditions announced by Jesus our commonsense wisdom sees God’s way as nonsense. “How can one have any sort of authority by not standing up against evil? And ‘loving your enemy’ what’s this all about? This sounds like we should be submitting and serving the very type of people we’re called not to be as Christians — the evil, our enemies and the enemies of God! Surely we can’t be associated with those condemned as jokes, or those who are gullible?

The reality though is when we allow ourselves to go the way of the world and return to the deeply rooted desires of our hearts, our wisdom, our authority and our traditions, love and compassion are lost to revenge and hatred. Regardless of history repeating itself or not, we repeat ourselves by constantly turning back to the nonsense of the heart. God and his word reveal humanity’s commonsense as mostly nonsense.

Why is this so? Because there is more to righteousness, wisdom, authority, and tradition than being good or bad! True wisdom will move us to see through the good bloke and lovely lady sentiment to a reality which asks, “How good is good enough for God? Can I ever be good enough?” and “Why do I need to be accountable to God anyway?”

True wisdom places itself in the Traditions of authority outside this world, so we might be seen as Sons of heaven. This wisdom gives us a sturdy footing on which to stand in this world, in this life, in the face of evil. This authority enables us to endure evil by standing up in something other than retaliation or revenge. We’re lifted in holiness by the Holy Spirit, who stands us in Christ, and therefore stands us in good stead with God the Father, and causes us to be the light of world and the salt of the earth.

I know I no longer have anything on good authority from the world! My experience and worldly traditions show me up as the same as those in whom I see evil and whom I believe to be the enemy. Therefore, I also know I’m trapped by the wisdom of this world, and need a Saviour to redeem me, and make me truly good before God.

Jesus concludes this section of his teaching on the mountain by stating what the status quo must be, to be truly good before God. In one line he tells us what fulfilling the Law is all about. He says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48 ESV) Jesus repeats what God told Moses at Mt Sinai when he said, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2 ESV)

Your righteousness must be perfect, not one motive out of place, not one thought out of place, not one deed out of place, nor one emotion out of place. So how do you do it? Do you think, feel, or act as if you can do it, even for just a moment?

You’re under the most burdensome wisdom if it’s all about being a good bloke. You’re tradition of trying to stand as a lovely lady only ensnares you as a gullible girl in this life.

God’s perfection is not about being good or bad; rather it’s about being holy. He needs us to be holy so his holiness won’t destroy us. But how can we live when perfection or holiness is out of our grasp?

The first part of God’s capital “T” Tradition is in fact knowing it’s out of our grasp. The second is trusting that God has reached out and grasps us? There is no more struggling to be a good bloke or a lovely lady, rather God makes us better than this, he makes us holy.

How does he do it? Jesus was not just a teacher teaching a new Law, he wasn’t another prophet calling for a return to the Law. He came with a new Tradition, a new wisdom which continues to confound the wise of this world, and came with authority so good it was holy.

Jesus is our wisdom personified! Jesus’ has authority to make you good blokes and lovely ladies, pleasing to our Father in heaven. And he does this by loving us even though we feel, we act, and think like enemies by being continually seduced by the traditions and wisdom of this world.

Jesus does this by not standing up to the evil of the world, but by being lifted up as a capital criminal on the cross. He took all our sin and evil, and in return gives us the holiness of his Sonship. He now seeks to stands up in us so we might stand up in faith focused on him as we endure all enemies and evil.

This is the new Tradition, the capital “T” Calvary cross Tradition, and it makes you God’s holy temple where the Spirit grows heavenly wisdom. And this new wisdom produces faith and hope enabling you to see God’s Traditions are life-giving eternal traditions.

In conclusion Paul tells us, "Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’ and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.’ So let no one boast in men." (1 Corinthians 3:16–21a ESV)

Let no one boast about being a good bloke or a lovely lady, but let us trust our Lord Jesus Christ who loved us, even unto death. Amen.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Epiphany 6 - 1 Corinthians 3:6-9 Deuteronomy 8:7-18 "His Holy Harvest"

In the Old Testament God promised to give the Israelites a new land. The land in which they dwelt was Egypt, a land of slavery and oppression. Having been freed from that place it seemed they went from the fry-pan into the fire. They found themselves wandering around in the Sinai wilderness, amongst snakes and sand. It seemed they found themselves between a rock and a hard face – a very hard place indeed.

But the Old Testament tells us of a promise made, that God would deliver them into a better place as the chosen race. He would give them an inheritance, a land of their own overflowing with milk and honey. And those he would deliver into this land of plenty would be a great nation, too numerous to count, as he had promised Abraham all those years before when he called him to look at the night sky and see his family numbered like the stars.

We know Abraham never saw the multitudes for himself. He only had one son, Isaac. Isaac too, never saw a large family. In fact, both of these men had wives who struggled to fall pregnant and have children, and the land in which they inhabited was not their own.

It was only when the land in which Isaac inhabited descended into drought and desolation that God began to grow Israel, but still only as a family. Jacob, and his wives and concubines, had a large family, but with no food it appeared they too would perish and die. If it was not for Joseph being sold into slavery and God raising him as Egypt’s second in charge, they would have surely become dust in death.

And so Jacob was the first to see a large family, but only after a series of severe testings throughout his life. He saw his family on the brink of starvation, he saw his family squabble and secretly sell one of his sons into slavery. And only in his last days did he see Joseph had survived and his family fed through God’s preservation. But was the land they were to inhabit the land of Egypt on the fertile Nile river?

We know it wasn’t, and for four hundred years it seems God goes quiet before he severs them from the slavish hell their lives had become in Egypt. Nevertheless, while they were there they grew as God had promised. From about seventy in the household of Jacob, saved from famine, not until after four hundred years and generations past, did they number like stars in the sky.

God delivered them through the Red Sea into the Sinai wilderness and God gave them the Law on Mount Sinai. Moses came down from the mountain with two stone tables and inscribed on them were Ten Commandments, given to guide the Israelites. They were commanded to look not to themselves but to the Lord. But what of God’s promise they would inhabit a land of their own? Moses tells the people…

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end.

Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. (Deuteronomy 8:7–18 ESV)

Can you imagine how they must have felt hearing this promise? Food and freedom; no more building bricks with mud and straw! Iron and copper, crops and vineyards, water and wealth; they were going to be masters in this land of promise and plenty.

Just like a child wide-eyed at the prospect of getting a gift, the Israelites promise to acknowledge the Lord, follow him adhering to the Law, and remember it was he who gave them power and wealth. “Yes Lord, o course we will listen to you, follow you, acknowledge you, and remain under your almighty guidance!”

However it seemed the Lord was a long time in coming good with his promise. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness just outside this place of plenty for forty years. For many it was a lifetime and most of them died never trusting God nor seeing the land of Canaan. God was again testing them and teaching them to trust him, his promises, and to follow him. If they weren’t going to follow him in the tough times how would they be able to do it in the good times?

So Israel’s promise is an inheritance of land. God grew the nation. He opened the wombs of Sarah, Rebekah, Leah and Rachel to do this. He carried them into Egypt and fed them, and while there he grew their numbers despite slavery and suffering.

He delivered them from the hand of the Egyptians, and made his presence known in the desert. And as they wandered in this wilderness he fed them, watered them, and increased their number and power. And then he delivered them into the land of plenty; a land flowing with milk and honey, an inheritance promised through adherence to the Law given on Mount Sinai.

What is God’s promise to you? What is God’s promise to us in his church? What is your inheritance?

Things are a little different from the days of the old covenant, the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments. Or are they?

Jesus Christ has come but the Law remains. In fact, he increases the Law. Do not murder, is increased! Now if you hate, you are guilty of murder. Settle your disputes lest the Law calls you to pay back “every” last penny! Just one look in lust and we’re guilty of adultery. And don’t make promises you can’t keep, by swearing or making oaths.

Jesus calls for impeccable thoughts, words, and deeds – to flee from all evil and acknowledge your lack of power. He says, “…do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matthew 5:36–37 ESV)

And what of our inheritance? The Israelites received land through the promise and remained in it as long as they adhered to the Law. And the Law led them to remain faithful to God. The Law reminded them, focused them, and revealed the reality they faced in their hearts every day.

Our inheritance is not our farms, our gardens, the milk and honey, the wheat and barley, the bread and water which we take from the earth. These things are the things God gives us as we walk in this wilderness towards the inheritance promised in Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, our struggle is still the same as that of the Israelites, the Corinthians, and every other person. Paul tells the church in Corinth…

For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.”

We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:1–14 ESV)

The greatest temptation we face today is doubt, worry, and pride. To believe God’s promise is not for us, to think our inheritance is what we work for now — our power, our time, and our possessions. We’re tempted and so often fail to trust God is in control, and seek to seize power for ourselves. We turn from God to the greatest idol in our lives; we the idolater become the idolatry. You and I set ourselves up as the great “I am” and our ego left to its own devices always turns to worry, doubt, and pride.

All of us are the same. All of us in this building, all in this generation, our parents, our children, all those we place on a pedestal and all we avoid in the gutter! Every temptation you face people have faced before, and they will be faced again. You have not been tempted by a temptation so great it can’t be resisted, or forgiven. God is still faithful and he provides a way out.

So what is the way out of our wilderness of sin? How do we depart from our deeds of destruction; the thoughts of temptation; and our testing times? What is our inheritance; our land of plenty?

It is not an inheritance here on earth, but rather this is the place of God’s harvest. Rather God wants us as his prize possessions. He longs to let his eternal glory rest on us as we rest in him. Yet in these days he calls us to let his glorified Son Jesus Christ, grow you into his kingdom.

St Paul says… I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labour. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3:6–9 ESV)

Your inheritance is you! God seeks to harvest you as he originally intended you to be; united with all in his kingdom as one before him!

Seek this heavenly holy fellowship. Soak up the water of God’s Word, be fertilised and fed in the body and blood of Christ. Allow yourself to repent; to be rebuilt through the testing times you face in this life. Let the Holy Spirit grow faith in you. You are God’s field, let him weed you! Be one in God’s holy house; let him build you as a believer. Let God grow you like grain, into his holy harvest gathered in Christ. Amen.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

A, Epiphany 5 - Matthew 5:13-20 "How Salt Saves"

Jesus speaks about two elements in the Gospel reading today – salt and light. Light is a concept used many times through the bible! We hear of light and darkness. Light is used in relation to holiness, goodness, and as radiating from God’s glory, etc. Light is the opposite of darkness, and darkness is the realm of the hidden, the shady, the underworld, the realm of evil; a place where God is not present nor is the light of his glory.

So when Jesus says, “You are the light of the world”, and “Let your light shine” it’s easy to grasp what he wants us to do. And that’s to let others see our good works and give glory to God.

So before we move onto the element of salt, let’s be clear about this light we’re called to shine – these good works that will cause people to glorify God. Notice though, these good works don’t cause others to glorify us rather just God. That’s important not to forget, lest we employ good works to be seen righteous and therefore seek glory for ourselves.

This is illustrated by the simple picture of a light hidden under a bowl. Why would you light a candle only to put it under something to cover up the light? One may as well not light the candle in the first place! It’s a complete waste of time and useless! One lights a candle so it can shine and remove the darkness and reveal the environment around it.

Just like a city on a hill whose light cannot be hidden, Jesus tells his disciples to let their light shine. But the light they shone was not a light which brought glory to them.

As a matter of fact the light they shone after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, won them imprisonment and martyr-hood. Like Christ, whose death on a hill continues to shine salvation on all who let this light shine in their lives, the disciples’ witness of our Lord shining at transfiguration, Calvary, and ascension, causes many others to give glory to God. To this day the disciples’ good works continue to bring glory to God even as they lay in their graves.

So the light we shine is, in fact, a light not of ourselves, but God. Covering God’s light by parading it as something that might bring glory to ourselves, is the same as putting a candle under a bowl - it’s completely useless and dysfunctional. Our good works are God’s good works set apart for us from before the creation of the world.

Believers don’t even know most of the time when they are shining this Christ centred light let alone have the opportunity to hide it. You can trust God is shining in you as you continue returning to him with a repentant heart, knowing your sinful nature always seeks to hide this God-glorifying light in you, from you, and others so that his light is hijacked for our glory.

The other element Jesus speaks of is salt. He said to the disciples and he says to you, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” (Matthew 5:13 ESV)

One might ponder, “How can salt lose its saltiness?” This immediately moves us to think about one aspect of salt – the one most of us use salt for today – for taste. Salt for many of us is an additive used to enhance flavour, but it has many other qualities too.

To see how these qualities are important for us as disciples of Christ, and the reason why Jesus tells us we’re “the salt of the earth”, we might look at salt in the same way as we do light.

Light shines in the darkness to dispel the darkness. Where light shines, darkness cannot exist. So salt flavours the flavourless, but if salt loses it saltiness, what actually is it? Or better still we can ask, “What is the opposite of salt? Is there an opposing element of salt that makes things bland?”

Now it might be a simple job to distinguish the opposites of light and darkness, however, salt is a little more complex. But when we examine the opposites of salt we can know what it is, what it’s not, and why it’s such a good image for Jesus to liken believers to.

So what is the opposite of salt …?

Sweet? Pepper? These two also give taste. Some might find sweet more pleasant than saltiness, but they both give taste among other things. And pepper it’s a spice, a taste agent too! All three add flavour, but what takes flavour away, a subtracter as opposed to an additive; how can salt lose its saltiness?

Salt is not just a taste agent. Salt is also a preservative. It’s used to sustain food from spoiling, and it’s used in the leather tannery process. Salt is a retainer, a keeper, an absorber. Salt in a body retains water, salt cleans by attracting moisture. Spill red wine on carpet and the best thing to get out the stain is lots and lots of salt. It preserves by sucking up the mess with the moisture.

It appears we can only find opposites of salt’s action. Salt gives flavour, it purifies and preserves, it stops food from rotting, and salt retains water by drawing it from other things. So we get a picture of what salt does and what it wouldn’t do if salt could lose its saltiness.

Jesus uses these pictures of salt and light to lead us into a deeper understanding of who we are as his children. He uses this illustration to show how the kingdom of heaven functions. He teaches a way lost on most cultures — the way of servanthood, suffering, and submission. Jesus teaches the way of righteousness lost even amongst Jews in favour of a righteousness built on pride, status, and self-achievement. But Jesus’ pictures of salt and light show how true righteousness and servanthood functions in the kingdom of God’s glory.

Jesus says,Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17–20 ESV)

Jesus didn’t come to take the saltiness from the salt, nor did he come to turn off the light. Rather he came rubbing salt into the wounds of sin, and he came letting the light expose all the deeds of darkness. The righteousness required by God is perfection, and the servanthood necessary, complete submission. Jesus came calling humanity back to the saltiness of God’s word and he came to shed light on a new way of righteousness.

When Jesus called the disciples to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, he was calling them to let the salt and light of the law do its work within them. Unless they first were preserved and given flavour by the Word, how could they have been salt and light to those around them?

Many of us today have a great faith and a high level of righteousness. Unfortunately though, this righteousness and faith does not find favour with God. It brings glory, respect, honour, veneration, fame, reward, pleasure, and power. But this righteousness and faith only lasts for fleeting moments and has no value in the kingdom of heaven.

The scribes and Pharisees were masters of this type of righteousness. They used the word of God to believe in themselves. They had a high moral conduct, they sought to follow the law, yet it was still not good enough. They were passing over the dots and iota’s, the bits and pieces, leaving their righteousness incomplete despite how astute they appeared to be.

Unfortunately for humanity, as hard as we try to do the righteous thing, there is always a dot or an iota left out. These are the motives for our righteous deeds. Motives which seek glory for the self — fame and fortune fought for by the follower!

So as good, clean living, honest and upstanding citizens as the Pharisees and scribes were, it was not enough to earn the kingdom of God, and unless your righteousness exceeds theirs you too will not enter the kingdom of God.

If the law is left to do its holy work. It lights up all unrighteousness and gives us a dose of the salts. It exposes and cleanses us first. Think of what it’s like when you’ve had a stomach bug. One is literally cleaned out, exhausted, and weak. This is spiritually what the law does to us. We are left in need of food that will strengthen our being. And we receive it, and more. The food we receive is forgiveness and faith, salt that preserves and purifies and a light which leads us in all righteousness.

Jesus fulfils all righteousness in his life, death, and resurrection here on earth. He gets right the bits and pieces of the law, the dots and the iota’s. Jesus Christ dots all the “I’s” and crosses all the T’s, and yet he hung on the cross as if he was guilty of all unrighteousness. And for those who trust in him and allow his righteousness to persevere in us it will preserve us eternally.

Those who believe they are weak, who let the law do its work, freely receive the grace of God’s forgiveness and a faith that’s born of his Word through the action of the Holy Spirit. God’s will is grafted into us; our will is washed in the blood of the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. And God enables us to live repentant lives as he shines into the world through us and seasons the earth with the righteousness he intended from the beginning.

Pray God lets his good works shine in you. Ask for him to give you strength to endure and persevere. And know through you he can implant the hunger of righteousness in the hearts of all who come your way. Let us give thanks to God and give him all praise and honour till his kingdom comes and all is preserved and enlightened forever, righteous in the glory of God. Amen.